Fred Ward

Miami Blues

1989

Orion Pictures

Directed and Written by George Armitage

Produced by Fred Ward and Jonathan Demme

Based on the novel “Miami Blues” by Charles Willeford

 

You ever watch a movie then see it years later and it in no way resembles the movie you saw years ago?  I had that feeling while watching MIAMI BLUES.  I know I saw this movie years ago at a 42end Street grindhouse mainly because I’m such a Fred Ward fan.  But I remember the movie as being more of a comedy and not quite so dark and violent.  Maybe it’s me that’s changed and not the movie.  After all this time I should hope I’ve changed.  But it was still disconcerting to me because I’m usually pretty good at remembering movies I’ve seen even as far back as 1989.  My wife Patricia says she can’t understood how I can’t remember the names, phone numbers and birthdays of 75% of my relatives but I remember casts, plots and lines of dialog from movies I’ve seen 20 years ago.  There’s an obvious answer but we won’t go into that now.  Let’s get on along with the movie review.

Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin) flies into Miami wearing the suede sport coat of a man he’s killed in San Francisco.  Fifteen minutes after he’s touched down Junior has broken the finger of a Hare Krishna just trying to offer him celestial enlightenment and stolen a suitcase.  Junior’s a killer, a con man and thief.  He’s successful at all three but only God knows how.  He never plans his crimes, just seizes whatever opportunity he happens upon and through a combination of nerve, luck and bravado manages to pull them off.   Junior quickly shacks up with the extremely dim witted hooker Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is totally captivated by Junior.  She dumps her pimp for him as well as empties her bank accounts to give to Junior.

In the meantime, Detective Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward) is assigned to the case of the Hare Krishna with the broken finger.  Seems as if the poor bastard died from shock so now it’s an active homicide investigation.  Neither Moseley nor his partner (Charles Napier) seems very interested in solving the crime.  But Moseley gets lucky enough to actually track down Junior to Susie’s apartment and rattles Junior with a couple of quite astute observations while they’re having dinner.  Just the scene where Fred Ward manages to get himself invited to dinner is a quirky enough scene.  It’s not funny enough to be comedy yet it’s not serious enough to be drama.  After chowing down Susie’s pork chops and drinking all of Junior’s beer, Moseley retires to the run-down hotel he calls home.  And is yoked the very next day by Junior who has followed him there.  Junior beats the ever-lovin’ tar outta Moseley.  He then steals Moseley’s gun, badge and his false teeth (don’t ask) and proceeds to go on a one-man crime wave using Moseley’s badge and pretending to be a cop.  Moseley, now the laughing stock of the department lies in a hospital bed, getting fitted for a new set of choppers and planning his revenge on Junior once he gets released.

MIAMI BLUES is a strange sort of crime thriller in that when I first saw it I remember laughing a whole lot more but having watched it recently after such a long period of time there were scenes where I was wondering if I should be laughing or cringing.  The scene where Moseley is having dinner with Junior and Susie qualifies as comedy until the moment when Moseley offhanded asks Junior where he did his time.  Junior replies that he’s never done time and Moseley casually notes that Junior protects his plate as if somebody is going to take his food from him.  The same way cons in the joint protect their plate.  Suddenly the mood and tone of the scene changes gears just that fast and you get the feeling that Junior just might do something nobody is going to like.  Especially since we’ve seen that he can commit mayhem as easily as other men put on their pants in the morning.

It’s got a nice cast.  Alec Baldwin has a lot of fun playing the psychotic Junior Frenger.  Baldwin is really good at playing guys like this; guys with more good looks and charm than any one man should have but who can turn into a cold-blooded bastard in a heartbeat.  And you can’t help but have a sort of admiration for the sheer nerve Junior has in pulling off his crimes.  This is one of those movies where the bad guy is actually more appealing and sympathetic than the good guy.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is a hoot as the slow-witted hooker Susie.  I’m so used to seeing her play really smart roles that it was actually very funny seeing her play a character so dense that even other characters in the movie ask each other if it’s possible Susie can be that dumb.  Fred Ward is one of my favorite all time actors and I’ll watch him in anything.  His Hoke Moseley is a cop who really doesn’t seem all that motivated or interested in doing his job.  At least not until Junior starts running around Miami pulling stickups while waving his badge and shooting people with his gun.  I could do without him taking out and putting in his false teeth every five minutes but the teeth are a running gag in the movie so maybe you’ll get more of a laugh out of it than I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised to see Shirley Stoler appear in this movie.  She co-starred with Tony Lo Bianco in “The Honeymoon Killers” a terrific crime suspense thriller based on a true story.  Charles Napier, Paul Gleason and Nora Dunn are also very good in their supporting roles, especially Nora Dunn who plays a detective Moseley pressures into helping him find Junior after Moseley gets out of the hospital.

So should you see MIAMI BLUES?  It depends on your mood and your tolerance for quirky semi-comedic/dramatic movies and how much of a fan you are of Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward.  I happen to like all of them so just on that basis I’d say yes.  Alec Baldwin has plenty of scenes where he walks around with no shirt on so he’s eye candy for the ladies and this is a chance to see him in his early in his career when he was hailed as the next big thing in movies.  If you’re a fan of crime thrillers I’d say give it a rental.  But as I said earlier, there’s a lot going on in this movie that might have you thinking that it’s a comedy.  At least until you get to the violent bits.  And the violence in this movie is unexpectedly brutal so consider yourself warned.

97 minutes

Rated R: And it most certainly is.  There’s free use of adult language, brutal violence and two mildly graphic sex scenes so make sure the urchins are in bed before you watch this one.

30 Minutes Or Less

2011

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Produced by Stuart Cornfeld and Ben Stiller

Screenplay by Michael Diliberti

Based on a story by Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan

The R-rated comedy has been making a comeback in recent years and some of them have been quite notable such as “Tropic Thunder” “The Hangover” “Next Day Air” “The Wedding Crashers” “Superbad” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” “Pineapple Express” and “Horrible Bosses” All of which I’ve seen and all of which I recommend you Netflix before  30 MINUTES OR LESS.

Not that it’s really all that bad a movie.  The plot actually is one that provides plenty of material for either comedy or suspense.  Two adult delinquents, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) need $100,000 dollars to hire a hit man to kill Dwayne’s dad (Fred Ward) who hit the lottery for $10 million bucks.  Dwayne’s dream is to open up a tanning salon/whorehouse and he’s afraid his dad is going to burn through the whole $10 mil before he drops dead.

The two get an idea; get hold of some innocent guy and strap a bomb to his chest and send him to rob a bank.  If he doesn’t do it or gets caught, they’ll blow him up.  The innocent they pick is Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) a pizza delivery guy who just cannot get the hang of the “30 Minutes or Less or It’s Free” policy.  Dwayne and Travis call him up to deliver a pizza to them.  When Nick arrives he’s jumped and knocked out by the gorilla mask wearing duo.  When Nick wakes up he’s wearing a vest rigged with explosives buckled to his torso.  He can’t take it off without it blowing up.  He’s given ten hours to rob a bank or ka-boom.

Right then and there, they lost me.  In ten hours even a moron could figure out a way how to get out of that situation.  And considering that the movie is titled 30 MINUTES OR LESS I figured that in a bit of sadistic cruelty, Dwayne and Travis would give Nick just 30 minutes or less to rob the bank.  That would have made for a tighter, more intensive plot.  But with ten hours to kill, it gives the screenwriters time to bring in unnecessary characters and scenes that have nothing to do with the story and seem inserted into the movie just to get that R rating.

Jesse Eisenberg is actually quite funny at times and the biggest laugh he got out of me is when his girlfriend asks him a question about Facebook.  He has good chemistry with Aziz Ansari who plays his best friend Chet who helps him rob the bank.  They have some scenes together that are pretty funny and I wouldn’t mind seeing them together in another, better comedy.  There was a couple of moments where they almost had a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder kinda vibe going back and forth and I think they have the potential to be a good movie comedy team.  But not if they keep doing movies like this one.

It’s Danny McBride who sinks this movie for me.  It seemed to me as if he couldn’t make up his mind if he’s in a comedy or a straight-up crime thriller.  Especially in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie where the violence escalates wildly out of control in proportion to what we’ve been watching for the previous 60.  But it’s always good to see Fred Ward again and in the brief scenes he has, especially his showdown with the hit man hired to kill him (Michael Pena) he shows why he’s been around in the business for so long and why he’s so much fun to watch on screen.

So should you see 30 MINUTES OR LESS?  Well, if you do decide to check it out, it’s only 83 minutes long so it’s not like you’re gonna blow a whole afternoon or evening on it.  I’m not saying it isn’t funny.  It’s just not funny enough for me.  It may be for you.

Rated R

83 minutes

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13